Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.


Our many standards-based blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s experts on standards-based reforms:

A national commission convened by the Aspen Institute just released a report titled, “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope,” with the hope (pun intended) that it will gain as much traction as the seminal report it pays homage to. Two years in the making, the Aspen report features six macro-level recommendations—all generally unobjectionable—for states to better integrate social, emotional, and academic learning into their schools and communities. These days, a lot is riding on SEL, especially among funders who are feeling once bitten, twice shy since Common Core launched in 2010.

The pursuit of collaboration and consensus was clearly top of mind among the report’s authors. Let’s come together on what unites us (“a shared vision for the future prosperity and well-being of our children”) rather than focusing myopically on what divides us (“divisive policy arguments”). In today’s polarized era, efforts like Aspen’s to find common ground is something we need more of, and their investment in what should be an integral part of every young person’s experience is worth commending. But notwithstanding the luminary status of those who signed onto the report’s conclusions, there are five potentially problematic elements that could prevent...


The use of standardized tests as a measure of student success and progress in school goes back decades. This practice was formalized by the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which established the broader use of test scores as a measure of school quality nationwide. The 2009 Race to the Top federal grant program promoted teacher evaluation reforms that also included the use of standardized tests as a component of a teacher’s evaluation.

But there has been pushback against the use of tests. Some academics and advocates, prominently including the teachers’ unions, have raised various concerns about the consequences of reliance (or overreliance) on test scores for school and teacher accountability purposes. And while there is certainly academic and policy disagreement about the efficacy of using test scores for accountability purposes, there is no doubt that policymakers are scaling back the mandated use of tests. The 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), for instance, continues NCLB’s requirement that students be tested annually from third to eighth grade, but eliminates much of the federal role in enforcing test-based accountability.

More recently, however,...


Ever since the supposed “graduation apocalypse” was first declared two years ago, we at Fordham have been vocal about the dangers of mischaracterizing Ohio’s graduation rates, passing permanent laws without data, and lowering expectations for students.

Of particular concern were the alternatives proffered by the State Board of Education and passed by the legislature for the Class of 2018. These softball alternatives allowed students to graduate based on things like attendance, capstone projects, and volunteer hours. Since the start of the school year, district officials have been calling for these alternatives to be extended to the classes of 2019 and 2020. This week, the Senate Education Committee buckled under pressure: House Bill 491 includes an amendment that, if passed by the full Senate and House (and ratified by Governor Kasich), would extend softened requirements to this year’s juniors and seniors.

As outspoken opponents of the watered-down requirements, we are disappointed that they may once again be used to award Ohio students a diploma. For twenty-five years—since 1994—Ohio students have had to demonstrate some level of objective academic competence to receive a diploma. Not now, nor for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, none of this was...


COLUMBUS (OH) – The Senate Education Committee today amended House Bill 491 to extend previously-relaxed graduation requirements for the class of 2018 to the classes of 2019 and 2020.

“Despite consistent feedback that too many Ohio high school graduates aren’t ready for credit bearing college courses and don’t possess the skills necessary to enter the workforce, the Senate is again rolling back what’s required to receive a high school diploma,” said Chad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “The point of raising the bar in the first place was to help students be prepared when they leave high school. While adults in the education system will rejoice if this change becomes law, students taking an easier path and left without an industry credential or grade level math and English skills will be left to pay the ultimate price.”

Rather than earning a diploma by successfully passing end-of-course exams, achieving remediation-free scores on the ACT or SAT, or attaining an industry credential and demonstrating workforce skills, students in the class of 2019 would be able to graduate by completing tasks from a list which includes a 93 percent senior year attendance...


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ohio Senate Education Committee is this week taking testimony on House Bill 491 which, as amended, would extend lowered, non-academic graduation requirements to the Classes of 2019 and 2020. Fordham’s Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy provided written testimony in opposition to those changes. That testimony is below.

Thank you, Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Huffman, Ranking Member Sykes, and Senate Education Committee members for the opportunity to provide written testimony on amendments potentially being offered on House Bill 491 related to softening the graduation requirements for future graduating classes.

In 2014, when the legislature adopted the current graduation requirements and raised the expectations for Ohio students to get a diploma, we applauded your resolve and commitment. It was a powerful acknowledgement that too few Ohio students were graduating high school with the skills necessary to be successful in college or to enter the workforce. Fully one third of Ohio students who did enter an Ohio college required remediation before taking credit-bearing courses. And we routinely heard reports of good paying jobs sitting vacant because young people didn’t have the skills that employers needed.

That’s why this body raised graduation requirements. Last year’s graduating class, the Class...


The ongoing debate on what standards (if any) students in the class of 2019 should have to meet in order to receive a diploma has resulted in very little attention being paid to recent recommendations by the Ohio State Board of Education to change graduation requirements for the classes of 2022 and beyond. In response to clamors for a “long term fix” to graduation standards, the state board has proposed requirements based on criteria such as vaguely defined culminating student experiences (CSEs) that align with concepts of personalized learning—a term used throughout the board’s strategic plan and emphasized in the “each child” part of the plan’s title. The board’s ideas are also reflected in a recent Ohio Department of Education statement supporting the proposal: “Students, with their parents and teachers, will choose how they demonstrate their career, college, or life readiness...with options like an internship, capstone project, or culminating student experience.”

Within limits, it’s perfectly fine to tailor classroom instruction to the needs and interests of individual students. But the application of personalized learning to graduation standards is misguided, especially when viewed through the lens of educational equity—an important concept that the state...


In August, the Ohio Department (ODE) of Education and the State Board of Education (SBOE) released their five-year strategic plan for education. It included ten strategies aimed at helping the state meet a questionable goal that doesn’t ask much of students or schools. One of these strategies called for identifying “robust and diverse ways to measure performance.” Take a look:

Ohio needs to address challenges related to a reliance on standardized assessments in academic content areas, especially in high-stakes situations. Students should have multiple ways to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. The State Board of Education recognizes this point and is examining the use of alternative tools as validated, reliable methods to assess knowledge. Such tools might include student portfolios, capstone projects, presentations, or performance-based assessments.

Less than a month later, state board members are already debating a draft proposal for a new set of graduation requirements that includes alternatives to assessments. Students would be able to choose how to demonstrate their competency in English, math, and other subjects from a laundry list of options. One of these options is a non-test-reliant pathway called a Culminating Student Experience (CSE).


Laura Slover and Bonnie Hain

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

Road map for student success

As Kate Gerson, CEO of UnboundED, recently said: “Adopting an aligned curriculum is the number one way to stop all the confusion and extra labor that is currently placed on teachers…Providing a road map that is comprehensive and coherent is game-changing.”

As former teachers, we agree. Back in our days in the classroom, we spent countless hours trying to create aligned curriculum, often without that road map. This included finding lessons, searching for quality grade level texts, and building assessments to track student learning—time that could have been better spent with students and with other teachers. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Data show that teachers still spend considerable time trying to find/develop content for their students and to create what is essentially their own curriculum—only now they do it online instead of in the teachers’ lounge.

For example, RAND’s 2017 analysis of the American Teacher Panel found that 96 percent of teachers use Google to find lessons and materials, while nearly 75 percent use Pinterest. What’s more, in schools...

Stephanie Hirsh

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

There is no doubt that the quality of instructional materials makes a real difference in schools and classrooms (see a great roundup of recent studies in Ashley Berner’s recent blog post here). We know we are unlikely to achieve the real power of those materials—and their potential to help educators serve all students—until we invest in building the capacity of educators to understand and implement those materials with integrity.

Learning Forward’s recent whitepaper, High-quality curricula and team-based professional learning: A perfect partnership for equity, explores how team-based inquiry cycles offer teachers meaningful, frequent opportunities to dive deep into the academic content of the materials they use with students along with the resources and context essential to supporting such learning.

We have long advocated for job-embedded collaborative professional learning for educators, as outlined in the Standards for Professional Learning. Policy at the national level in the U.S. offers an exciting lever for advancing effective professional learning with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which includes a definition of professional learning aligned with these standards. The definition states that professional development is...

Barbara Davidson

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting a group of schools across the country distinguished by their embrace of high-quality curriculum. The tour was sponsored by the Knowledge Matters Campaign, which seeks to lift up the stories of schools that use knowledge-rich English language arts curriculum to promote educational excellence, provide equity, and inspire in students a passion for learning.

The campaign is particularly interested in drawing attention to schools and curricula that bring a joyous, knowledge-filled schooling experience to students of poverty, as they have been the ones particularly harmed by a skills-based approach that is arguably one of the most significant factors in reading scores remaining flat over the past twenty years (see this article published by the Campaign last month), to say nothing of driving out a love of learning in our young people.

Most of the schools we visited on the tour had adopted a curriculum highly rated by EdReports, the independent non-profit organization that, for the past four years, has served as something of a Consumer Reports on Common Core-aligned curriculum. Three key instructional shifts:...